Sales specialization: How to scale your business

Sales specialization

Traditional sales, thought of in a relationship-building context, usually involves one sales rep getting a “lead,” nurturing that lead into a paying client/customer, and then continuing along with that person, who is now probably slugged as an “account.” (This all varies by organization in terms of the words people use.)

There’s a different approach that some companies use, however — it’s called sales specialization. It’s been called “the No. 1 sales multiplier” by some, so it’s worth investigating as a potential sales strategy.

Sales specialization vs. traditional sales methodology

Here’s how it works: rather than one client-salesperson relationship evolving from lead to account, you have four buckets of salespeople:

  • Inbound lead qualification
  • Outbound prospecting
  • Closing new business
  • Post-sales, or account management/customer success

In this situation, any customer moves from person to person. When that customer is a lead, they will be dealing with one of your inbound lead qualifiers (first bullet point). When that customer is ready to be closed, they will deal with a closing expert (third bullet point). So on and so forth from there.

This is a big change from how most approach sales methodology, and because change is hard — especially in organizations — we need to consider the problems and then the potential benefits to see if this would work.

So, what are the problems with sales specialization?

The primary problem most people bring up is the relationship-building aspect. If a customer is moving between 4-5 of your reps instead of working with one rep, won’t that get confusing for the customer? And if the customer is confused, won’t they drop out of the funnel?

That’s a potential concern, but … think about it from the other perspective. If a salesperson is managing 12-15 different relationships at different stages of the funnel, then that salesperson constantly has to switch between lead-qualifying, closings, customer success/issues, etc. It’s very taxing. That salesperson is constantly putting out fires and rushing from task-to-task, as opposed to focusing in a specific area.

When you specialize, though, your people in each bucket become experts around that bucket. They know how to qualify. They know how to close. That’s what they do and focus on all day. Developing expertise in any business context is great, but especially in sales. Sales has evolved 92,000 different ways since the mid-1990s, so having people who know a specific area is good for your business model.

The other major concern is usually that the four buckets above won’t work for your specific organization. As noted here, those buckets are not the be-all and end-all. You can define different areas of specialization/expertise if you’d like. The bigger idea is to have groupings of sales specialists, as opposed to salespeople having accounts at all funnel stages.

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The true gold of sales specialization: Scalability

Here’s probably the most important aspect: scale. Scalability in business is crucial for future growth. When you have defined sales specializations, the following aspects of developing a sales team tend to become easier:

  • Hiring
  • Training
  • Measuring performance (because it’s against one major objective and not 10 different ones)
  • Career development
  • Promotion

It’s a much simpler career path internally when each sales rep specializes in a given stage of the funnel and has clear metrics around their stage. You know when someone might be ready for more responsibility, and all along the curve, you’re developing experts in that area.

The No. 1 thing that tends to get in the way of scalability for any company is turnover coupled with poor hiring/recruiting processes. With specialists, these both become less of a concern.

One final thought for you to consider: in your entire time in the sales world, think about every generalist (one sales rep to one customer) team you’ve ever seen. How many of those teams do the lead generation and qualifying stages very well? You can probably count them on one hand. Heck, GE Healthcare even banned the term “lead generation” from its sales vocabulary — in part because of semantics, but in part because their teams hadn’t mastered the concept yet!

Everything about new customers begins with generation and qualifying. So wouldn’t you want experts at that level, as opposed to a rep who also has to work on closings and customer issues that day?

Any other thoughts on sales specialization?

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